Astrid Heyerdahl is a mountain biker and skier. That’s one of the ways she defines herself.
Two years ago she was offered the job of executive director of Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History. She decided to accept it and move to Nelson because she and her husband would be able to bike and ski here.
“When I came to Touchstones,” she says, “I asked how many exhibits about mountain biking they had had. The answer was none. That was surprising to me considering how important it is here.”
She says mountain bike culture is a defining characteristic of Nelson.
“People nationally and internationally understand Nelson through a few different means, and mountain biking is a major one of those. We have the most incredible trail network in the world that draws people internationally. Regularly on the trail you meet people from all over: the States, Europe, coming here to mountain bike.
“I am not a racer, but I understand the passion and love because it’s in me, and I understand its beauty.”
As soon as she arrived in Nelson she started planning an exhibit, A Mountain Biking Retrospective, which opened last week and runs until Nov. 4.
Mark Holt says that when he walked through the door on opening night he was surprised at the first thing he saw.
“It is a bit overwhelming, I mean I walk in and my name is on the wall. It’s the first thing I see. It blows me away that this even exists.”
Why is his name featured prominently on the wall?
“Mark Holt is on the wall,” says local mountain bike veteran Deb MacKillop, “because Mark Holt made mountain biking trails what they are in Nelson. He has built so many trails and he created the flavour of mountain biking in Nelson in a lot of ways. He was not alone, not the only one, but Mark has been the staple, and the guy that has been out there the longest and with the most hours.”
MacKillop is also featured on the wall at the exhibit.
“She is a big part of mountain biking in Nelson at a racing level,” says Holt. “She started in 1998, a bit of a late bloomer. She raced the downhill circuit and was one of the top three female riders in BC for quite a long time. As time moved on she became more involved with cycling club, wrote an economic report back in 2005, and is now president of the cycling club, steering the ship, making things happen. Without her we would not have this exhibit.”
The retrospective looks at the history and growth of mountain biking starting in the 1980s using photos, maps of Nelson’s 118 trails, clippings, video, paintings, prints, equipment and actual bikes. It has sections on founders, riders, Nelson’s international biking stars, the cycling club, the Fat Tire Festival, writers, film makers, trail builders, technology, and economy. It includes sections on other communities in the Kootenays.
“It is really amazing for a public institution to bring this to the community,” MacKillop says. “Museums are kind of known for bringing old people in, and it is unreal how many young people are really excited about this. They are pumped on this exhibit.”
She says mountain biking is a big business and an economic driver in Nelson and many people are not aware of this. It’s under the radar for three reasons: unlike other sports, she says, it is dispersed, it is volunteer driven, and it’s free.
“Skiing in Nelson is known and recognized and there is a ski hill, everybody goes to one spot, but with biking we have trails all across the map. There is no fee, and that makes a difference because it just happens, and some people take that for granted. You might see these crazy looking bikes on trucks and you will see the odd trail come out of the bush on the rail grade,” but otherwise it is invisible to many.
Beyond that trail exit, just out of sight, is a network of trails all the way to the sub-alpine that are second nature and home territory to many riders and trail builders.
“When we talk about dispersed,” Holt says, “it is not only in distance but in elevation, and you are riding under the trees. As soon as you are off the road or off the rail trail you are in the food chain.”
MacKillop says biking has become a cross-generational cultural community in Nelson.
“Many bikers and trail builders were Fat Tire Fest kids in 2000, and now some of them have their own kids. They bring them out to the festival, and they are out there trail building, they are part of the community and contributing back. Growing up with it. Kurt Sorge, his father was the assistant manager at Save On Foods, he is a very local kid.”
Sorge is also featured prominently in the exhibit.
“Nelson has produced some of the biggest names in mountain biking in the world,” says MacKillop, “like Kurt Sorge, Robbie Bourden, Mike Kinrade, Joe Schwartz, Garett Bueller. Nelson has had more involvement in the Red Bull Rampage (an annual freeride competition in Utah) than any other town including Los Angeles. Kurt Sorge is the winningest competitor ever. There are millions of people who know these guys’ names.”
One of the issues for the future, Holt says, is accessibility.
“I get a lot of questions, ‘Why not more intermediate trails?’ and I say, ‘We don’t have the terrain. It is fjord-like here. We don’t have a valley bottom, we have a lake.’”
Even so, a lot of work is going into making mountain biking accessible to more people, and MacKillop says the Cycling Club is working hard to build more all-level trails, particularly the development of the extension of the Trans Canada Trail at Morning Mountain, creating “the opportunity for people to learn without having to dive straight into the Black Diamond Trail.”